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Should cricket have been ruthless with Amir?

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The Return of Mohammad Amir (2:47)

As fate would have it, Mohammad Amir returns to Lord's six years after he was found guilty in a spot-fixing scandal (2:47)

What are riches untold in a life without compassion?
For there's no winter as cold
As a life without compassion.
There's no prescription that's sold
That can heal you like compassion.

As any regular readers of this column's unabashedly indulgent ramblings may have detected, music is my first love and it will be my last (although plugging John Miles' philosophy is not something I do with much enthusiasm). Graeme Wright, the estimable erstwhile editor of Wisden, even went so far as to dub me the first rock n' roll cricket writer, a badge I wear with unseemly pride. Even so, my hero Todd Rundgren's plea for compassion has been falling on ever stonier ground of late - most troublingly, I readily confess, in the case of Mohammad Amir.

As some of you might conceivably have noticed, my tolerance of match-/spot-fixing is approximately nine degrees below zero. Indeed, to attempt to predetermine even the merest millisecond of a sporting contest is, quite frankly, almost as despicable as racism. Dick Pound, the admirable Canadian lawyer who until recently spearheaded the drive to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs with impressively extreme prejudice, told a conference in Denmark last year that corruption was now the most dastardly enemy of fair and credible competition.

To plot a result, or even a no-ball, deprives the competitive arts of their very essence: uncertainty, suspense and drama. That's why it holds us in such a vice-like grip; and that's why my compassion for Amir has waxed and waned with such shameful frequency. As for those who have no compunction in persuading others to defraud spectators and subscribers, such as H***** C***** and S***** B***, I cannot even bring myself to type their names, much less - in the case of the former - mourn their passing.

There is no need to remind you of the events of 2010, Amir's tender age, or the vast gulf in privilege between him and B***, the scruple-free captain who took such deplorable advantage of his insecurity. That both served the same time in jail and the same five-year ICC suspension only reinforces the rank, perverse injustice of it all.

"That Amir deserves every ounce of compassion we can muster is beyond dispute, but can a case not be made with equal conviction that cricket would make an infinitely more important statement by withholding it, by being mercilessly ruthless?"

So how do I feel about Amir's return to NW8? Roughly as equivocal as I do about the prospect of a female prime minister whose home contains a shrine to that accursed Thatcher woman: delighted that someone without an Adam's apple is going to take up residence at 10 Downing Street, utterly and profoundly depressed that Theresa May should offer our troubled nation so little by way of goodness, direction or relief.

On the one hand, as Amir's precocious performances here half a dozen summers ago so sumptuously demonstrated, he has it in him to match - or perhaps even exceed - the fabulous feats of his countryman Wasim Akram, the greatest of all brisk left-arm ball-benders. On the other, his return to centre stage accentuates my despair at the alacrity with which sport is descending into fraudulent farce.

For centuries boxing and horse racing were the prime culprits. Nor should it ever be forgotten that the laws of our trivial pursuit were drawn up expressly to combat corruption, nor that the earliest MCC tours of Australia were bedevilled by premeditated outcomes. Nor that baseball's formative years were consistently polluted by such dastardly deeds. Now even tennis has been poisoned by those to whom money means more than merit. As for that hardy perennial wrestling, home to such tough-as-nails troubadours as Mick McManus and Big Daddy, let's just remind ourselves what WWE stands for: not World Wrestling Endeavour or World Wrestling Effort but World Wrestling Entertainment.

The best bit of blindingly obvious advice I could give myself, therefore, would be to steer clear of St John's Wood for the next few days. The problem with that, however, is that it is also home to Harry M's, which, according to Matthew Engel and myself, is indubitably the planet's finest purveyor of chopped liver, salt beef, cold fried haddock, potato latkes, blintzes and lockshen pudding.

That Amir deserves every ounce of compassion we can muster is beyond dispute, but can a case not be made with equal conviction that cricket would make an infinitely more important statement by withholding it, by being mercilessly ruthless?

After all, the eight members of the Chicago White Sox team who conspired to throw the 1919 World Series were all banned sine die; even Buck Weaver, whose only crime was to be aware of the original negotiations with Abe Rothstein's henchmen, and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the illiterate farmboy whose displays against the Cincinnati Reds - bar some fumbles in the field - were never less than inspirational (hence his rebirth in Field of Dreams). Can it be entirely coincidental that match-fixing has never subsequently darkened the doors of Major League Baseball? Do bees sting?

Having endured problems with trust in recent years I recently decided to purge myself of anger by forgiving those responsible. And that's why I will be urging Amir on rather than banging on about why not everyone deserves a second chance. And if cricket stands for anything, it is second chances.